ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
After pounding the Bahamas for nearly two days, Hurricane Dorian is making a long anticipated turn to the northwest. Now it is threatening the southeast Atlantic seaboard. It's currently a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 miles an hour. Dorian is blamed for at least five deaths in the Bahamas, and the scale of the devastation there is now becoming clearer.
NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Jacksonville, Fla., and joins us with the latest.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: As Dorian finally moves away from the Bahamas, what can you tell us about the situation there on those islands?
ELLIOTT: Well, it's dire. I mean, you could only imagine enduring major hurricane conditions for 36 hours or more without ceasing. The administrator for Grand Bahama Island, Don Cornish, said today on government TV station ZNS that several hurricane shelters had lost their roofs and flooded, including one for special needs patients.
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DON CORNISH: Persons in wheelchairs were placed on top of tables. And nurses were doing work with water waist high. It was incredible circumstances.
ELLIOTT: Just sounds awful - and the goal now is to get those people evacuated to hospitals elsewhere. And as the water recedes, rescue crews are trying to get in. They're using helicopters, jet skis, some high-wheeled vehicles - trying to get people who were trapped in their attics or on rooftops by the rising and rushing waters. You know, thinking about the scope of this, initial reports are more than 10,000 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged. And officials are warning that a humanitarian crisis looms, as some 60,000 people are going to need food, water and shelter.
SHAPIRO: And as the storm moves away from the Bahamas, it's now moving towards Florida, where you are. So tell us about what conditions are in the state and what people are anticipating.
ELLIOTT: Well, Florida is already feeling the impact from Dorian's outer bands. There are gusty winds and rain, and the surf is certainly churned up. Also, commerce has been affected. Downtown Jacksonville was very much idle today, then businesses over along the beach were closed and boarded up. Several Florida airports shut down; even Disney closed this afternoon.
The message from the National Hurricane Center is that Hurricane Dorian is growing in size - it's getting wider - and it will move dangerously close to the Florida east coast before it moves on to affect Georgia and the Carolinas. Certainly, the picture got a little better for Florida today because that cone of impact shifted a little bit. Governor Ron DeSantis acknowledged the more favorable track, but he urged people to remain vigilant and heed local evacuation orders. You know, the point is that just a little bit of deviation from this already unpredictable storm could be devastating.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. So the winds may be weakening, but the size of this storm is growing. What is the anticipated impact of Dorian? And are people taking the threat seriously?
ELLIOTT: You know, for this part of Florida, the - a storm surge that could be up to 7 feet, that's a lot of water piling up. I went out on Jacksonville Beach today, and crews were moving sand to sort of create a barrier near boardwalks and other places where there were breaks in the sand dunes.
I spoke with Evan Beeman. He lives about five blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. He has not heeded a local evacuation order yet. He says he'll be making that call later this evening as he watches the forecast. He'll then decide whether or not to leave with his wife and his 4-month-old son. Beeman says it's been really hard getting ready for Hurricane Dorian.
EVAN BEEMAN: It's kind of been an emotional roller coaster, you know? You see it, and you start preparing. And then it's going to be a couple more days, and now they downgrade it. So it's kind of been up and down. But I still am not confident that we're not going to get hit.
ELLIOTT: So for now, he's watching and waiting.
SHAPIRO: And briefly, tell us about what the anticipated path is beyond Florida.
ELLIOTT: Forecasters have Dorian remaining a hurricane as it slowly curves up the core - coast, again bringing the threat of strong winds, life-threatening storm surge and the potential for flash flooding. As always, water - the biggest worry in a hurricane. Georgia and the Carolinas are getting ready. They've ordered mass evacuations from low-lying coastal communities and barrier islands, even reversing lanes on highways and interstates to help get people out. So the threat then by the weekend will be the Outer Banks of North Carolina and then off of the Virginia coast.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Debbie Elliott, thank you.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.